Girls and Robotics Camp
I got to spend this week with Hillary Clinton, Taylor Swift, and Bruno Mars. Hillary gave an amazing speech, while Bruno did a headstand and Taylor “shook it off.” Also, there was a cameo by Queen Beyonce herself. This amazing experience was created by 8 wonderful girls ages 8-15 during a Robotics camp.
As a scientist, I often approach robots as gears and motors governed by an all-powerful script. Through the combination of logic, physics, and moving parts, something beautiful is created. I feel connected to the problem I’m solving. In the classroom, students don’t often connect to the learning. When solving a mathematical problem, students don’t develop a caring relationship with each number. But what if they did? How would the learning experience change?
JD is a humanoid robot created by EZ Robots. During the week of camp the girls learned how to build and configure JD. They also programed JD to greet people, have conversations and dance. All the mathematics, physics, coding, spatial and visual skills gained during this week proved that every single member of this group has a place in the technical world and as a future innovator. But that did not eclipse some of the other strengths that were gained in this time.
From the moment the robots were put together, these girls demonstrating caring and nurturing. The robots were new friends, they immediately had a personality. When being configured, the robot lets out a buzzing sound when any of the servos are stressed. The girls would respond to them as a parent does a child. The physical problem of configuring the motors to have minimal stress became about making their friends comfortable. Getting a robot to move involves some very high level math transformation skills. It made me think of my dreaded geometry class.
I always had difficulty translating shapes into different spaces. I remember the tests where we were given graph paper and had to translate shapes into different spaces. I never got the right answer. That shaped my attitude that I was a failure at visual and spatial reasoning.
However, if the girls could not get a movement to work at first, or if their robot fell (or in one case decapitated itself), they picked the robot up, gave it a quick hug, and went back to trying. They developed resilience towards the frustration that arises when things don’t go the way you want. They were able to look at why something didn’t work and find a solution. They demonstrated critical thinking.
This resilience is needed in order to find success and satisfaction. If coders did not plow through the frustration of bugs, this blog would not exist, nor would the internet. This camp showed me how we can use STEM education as a platform to build a future of innovative, risk-taking, and resilient citizens.